The balance of power on the region’s transportation authority board has shifted toward St. Clair County in Illinois — and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page isn’t happy about it.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a new state law this week that gives St. Clair County another permanent seat on the Bi-State Development Corporation board. The change effectively gives St. Clair veto power over operations that include local light rail and bus service.
Page said that’s unfair, since St. Louis County contributes far more money to Bi-State than St. Clair. St. Louis County provides about half of the transit system’s money. St. Clair is responsible for less than a fifth of it, he said.
Page said St. Louis County was caught off guard by the change in the makeup of the Bi-State board. Upon learning of the bill, Page’s office contacted Pritzker’s staff on Friday to discourage him from signing it into law.
“This isn’t what we signed up for in St. Louis County,” Page said in an interview Tuesday. “This is not an issue that was ever discussed at the Bi-State board.”
The board has 10 slots — five for Illinois and five for Missouri. The different states have oversight over how those seats are allocated.
Historically, Missouri has given two seats each to St. Louis city and county. The fifth seat then alternated between the two. The governor picks the board members from a list of people nominated by local officials.
The Illinois seats historically have also been split between St. Clair and Madison counties, but the new law will give St. Clair four permanent seats and Madison just one.
It takes three votes each from Missouri and Illinois representatives on the board to approve new policy. So under the new structure, St. Clair won’t be able to force through any changes, but its members could unilaterally block votes, Page said.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the shift in Bi-State power “fixed an injustice” in Illinois. Madison County had power equal to St. Clair's on the Bi-State board, even though Madison doesn’t contribute funding to Bi-State. It runs its own transit system.
The new governance structure may cause St. Louis County to rethink how much financial support it gives to Bi-State. Page and several county council members have already expressed concern over public safety on the system and recent cuts to bus service.
“If we don’t have the votes, certainly we have a big influence on the revenue,” Page said. “By providing over half of the service, if Bi-State goes in the wrong direction, I think our county council is going to have a tough conversation with how much of our tax money we send to that organization.”
Bi-State had wanted St. Louis County to increase its funding for its transit operations, and several county leaders were already hesitant to do so before the governance change came to light.
Pritzker and Bi-State officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Follow Julie O’Donoghue on Twitter at @jsodonoghue
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